Rural Education

In Kansas, we have a proud tradition of valuing and supporting public education. As the state was settled and communities were built, building a common place for the children to learn - a public school - was a priority for the new Kansans. The schools they built still dot the landscape of rural Kansas, but that legacy is under threat.

Ideological extremists and hyper-partisan lawmakers who currently lead the Kansas Legislature keep trying to divert our tax dollars to private schools, primarily found in the bigger cities and suburbs where there are already many public options. Meanwhile, our rural public schools struggle to simply remain open, let alone offer the wide array of classes and extracurricular opportunities available in their better-funded counterparts.

Just watch this exchange between current House K-12 Education Chairwoman (and current House Majority Caucus Chairwoman) Representative Kristy Williams (R-Augusta) and two rural Kansans: Chairwoman Williams' exchange with Kansans. Rural public schools already face an uphill climb, and they don't need our legislative leadership to create more difficulties for them.

Call it a voucher, call it a scholarship, call it a savings account... they all do the same thing. They set aside some of our tax money for education -- just not for our rural schools, and not for our rural students who live too far from a private school to ever use one. Geography is a tough thing to fight, and opportunity shouldn't depend on zip code.

We can all agree that parents are their child's first and most important teachers, but where do proponents of "school choice" think rural students will choose to go? And even if some rural students are able to use these programs, what would that mean for the rest of the kids in the now-smaller-and-less-well-funded public school they leave? These programs may sound nice in theory, but they just don't work for rural Kansans.

It's a hard fact that rural Kansas is losing population to the more densely-populated areas. Lower population means fewer kids, fewer kids means less funding, and less funding - in rural Kansas - means hard decisions, often at the expense of student opportunity. 

We have to come together as Kansans to support public education. If you need a reason why, drive to a town that has lost its school - there are regrettably many to choose from - and talk to somebody there. Voucher (whatever they may be called these days) programs may not cause rural schools to close or consolidate, but they certainly don't help the situation.

Public dollars are needed in public schools, so we need leaders who want to put - and keep - them there.